Florida, like many other states, enforces an at-will employment policy. This set of rules allows employees and employers to terminate their working relationship at any time, for any reason, without warning. The caveat to this rule is that actions by employers must not be considered discriminatory.
To protect themselves from potential discrimination allegations, employers must be well-versed in the exceptions to the at-will employment rules. One such exception is the Florida whistleblower laws.
Understanding Florida Whistleblower Laws
Whistleblowing is a term used to describe the disclosure of information about harmful or illegal acts that occur in the place of employment. In the state of Florida, there are two different laws pertaining to this issue. Florida statute 122.3187 addresses whistleblowing in the public sector, while statue 448.102 covers rules pertaining to private employers.
Private employees are protected from retaliation when they report or threaten to report an activity or policy that violates rules, laws, or regulations. In the private sector, whistleblowing doesn't have to be related to the employee-employer relationship. In some cases, the employee must give written notice and allow the employer a chance to remedy the complaint.
Public-sector whistleblowing laws contain language specific to real or perceived violations related to "a substantial and specific danger to the public's health, safety, or welfare" this may include gross mismanagement, waste of public funding, neglect of duty, Medicare fraud, malfeasance, or misfeasance.
How Whistleblower Laws Impact At-Will Employment
As long as employees have followed necessary guidelines, Florida whistleblower laws protect them from retaliation. Unlawful retaliation may include termination, probation, suspension, reduction in benefits or salary, and other disciplinary actions.
Employees who have suffered from employer retaliation may be able to seek the following remedies:
Reinstatement of employment
Full reinstatement of fringe benefits and seniority
Compensation for loss of wages
Compensation for expenses related to job search, healthcare, and other expenses incurred as a result of termination
Reimbursement for attorney fees and court expenses
How Employers Can Protect Themselves
If an employee has disclosed or threatened to disclose potentially problematic information, it's important for employers to take precautions to avoid real or perceived discrimination.
Remember that as an employer, you can be accused of retaliation even if you do not terminate the employee in question. Creating a hostile work environment by making disparaging remarks, increasing discipline, or otherwise encouraging employees to quit their jobs can lead to significant problems.
Employers can protect themselves by ensuring all staff members in an authoritative position are fully aware of the rules and repercussions for failing to follow them. Establish written policies explaining what retaliation is and stating that your company has a zero-tolerance policy. If you receive complaints, keep them confidential.
If possible, communicate directly with the complaining party, making them aware of your anti-retaliation policy. Keep written notes regarding the steps you have taken to avoid retaliation and if circumstances require you to take disciplinary action against a possible whistleblower, be sure that your reasons are valid, unrelated to the allegations, and thoroughly documented.
Following these guidelines will help Florida employers avoid making a potentially difficult situation even worse. Above all else, make sure to keep your cool and remember the potentially significant impact that can come from retaliation charges.